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American football: Denver driven on by dynamic Davis

As the autumn nights close in and the regular season approaches its closing stanzas, it is not unusual for a team establish itself as the Super Bowl favourites. What is unusual is for that team to hail from the American Football Conference.

That may be about to happen, though, especially if the Denver Broncos produce many more victories as impressive as Sunday's in New England.

The Patriots went into the game with understandable optimism themselves, a run of good results establishing them as genuine contenders. That sequnce was ruthlessly ended by the Broncos, who dominated from the moment the Patriots head coach Bill Parcells called a fake punt at his own two on the opening drive. The pass was dropped and five plays later the visitors were a touchdown ahead.

"We were completely outclassed," Parcells said after the 34-8 defeat. "I thought we would do better than that."

For those Broncos fans who cannot recall their three losing Super Bowl appearances in the late Eighties without wincing, there are reasons to be more optimistic this time. Whereas that team relied on the wonderous arm of quarterback John Elway and hoped for the best, the '96 vintage is built on altogether sounder foundations.

In particular there is the rushing of Terrell Davis, a sixth-round draft pick 18 months ago who was described by Marty Schottenheimer - head coach of the Broncos' divisional rivals Kansas City - as the best back in the league two months ago, and has done nothing since to suggest that opinion was premature.

Against the Patriots Davis rushed for 154 yards, gained another 56 with four receptions, and scored three times as Elway, who was nursing hand and leg injuries, was able to play a supporting role and still watch his side win convincingly. It was Davis' sixth 100-yard game of the campaign, and takes his total to a league-leading 1,209 yards.

"It's real hard to cut on that field and I knew my moves had to be a little more subtle today." Davis said. "I just told myself to run hard and once I got into the secondary, I tried not to go down on the first hit."

Denver's seventh consecutive win took their record to 10-1, comfortably the best in the AFC. Barring an Atlanta Braves-like slump in December they have virtually ensured that all conference rivals will have to win in Colorado to reach the Super Bowl. Given the Broncos formidable record at the Mile High Stadium, that should prove a huge advantage. Nor, for once, do the Broncos look hopelessly over-matched against the best NFC teams.

In that conference Philadelphia fans will be feeling particularly depressed this week. A fortnight ago they won in Dallas, but have followed that with consecutives home defeats, the latest by Washington on Sunday.

Results, tables, Sporting Digest